Witness: Shift Crebilly development east

A land planner with the Brandywine Conservancy said Toll Bros. plan for Crebilly Farm in Westtown Township does not fit township code but could work with modification.

John Snook previously reviewed other Toll plans during his 40 years with the conservancy and dealt with the developer during his 10-year tenure as a supervisor in East Bradford Township. His testimony during Tuesday night's conditional use hearing dealt with several points of Westtown's comprehensive plan and zoning code but focused mainly on the preservation of the scenic view of the farm because of its historical significance as part of the Battle of Brandywine.

Several historians previously testified that even if there had been no actual fighting on the farm property, there were at least some British troop movements on the western side of the farm. There are also reports that American forces fired cannons at British troops on Crebilly from Sandy Hollow in Birmingham Township.

Snook said that he didn't realize how much of a view there was of Crebilly from Sandy Hollow until last weekend's battle re-enactment in Birmingham. He labeled the view as a historically scenic view, which is a secondary conservation area.

Primary conservation areas include wetlands and steep slope areas — those destroyed by development and where there can be no construction — while viewsheds and woodlands are secondary areas. They can be preserved with proper planning, he said.

"The plan does not protect the scenic view from Sandy Hollow, or from New Street or Route 926," Snook said.

Snook said Toll did not work closely enough with the township Planning Commission in developing concepts to map and preserve those secondary areas. He was critical of Toll for not doing so but added that he did not believe that was deliberate or that Toll acted in bad faith.

During cross-examination from Westtown Supervisor Carol DeWolf, Snook said another aspect of historic significance was that Crebilly lies between Osborne Hill and Sandy Hollow.

At least one person in the audience was struck by that fact.

Elizabeth Moro is part of Neighbors for Crebilly, one of the parties opposing the development. She is also seeking the Democratic Party nomination to run for U.S. House of Representatives against incumbent Pat Meehan.

"There is no doubt that Crebilly Farm lies in the path of the Brandywine Battlefield swath as determined by the Chester County Planning Commission and historical documentation presented," Moro said in an email after the hearing session. "This hallowed ground where our founders and fellow patriots fought and gave their lives to give birth to this nation is worthy of preservation. In a time in American history when our Constitution is being challenged to its core, we must take dedicated efforts to preserve not only the land which was fought upon but for the very reasons that this country was founded — for the rights of all people and for preserving the quality of life."

Snook and others have addressed that "battlefield swath," with Snook saying Tuesday that Toll could still develop the property as long as it moves the homes more to the east side of the property, out of the swath.

"They can move out of the swath and cluster homes more tightly," he said. "They can go a long way to achieve conservation of the landscape."

Snook also said the plan needs more internal trails and that perimeter trails should connect with other trail networks in Birmingham and Thornbury townships.

Testimony from the beginning and through Snook's was part of the case brought by the Westtown Township Planning Commission. The commission rested its case after Snook, but the hearing continued with testimony from traffic engineer Frank Tavani, who was called as part of the case for Thornbury Township, one of the other parties in the matter.

Tavani testified that traffic flow would be better if Toll kept a proposed right in/right out access point on Route 202, something Westtown Township doesn't want. Toll has said it would remove that access point if Westtown made that a condition for approval.

Tavani also said installing a traffic signal at Route 202 and W. Pleasant Grove Road would be beneficial, as would adding sidewalks around the property and installing pedestrian crosswalks across Routes 926 and 202.

He said sidewalks and crosswalks would give people the opportunity to go to the CVS or the shopping centers on the east side of Route 202 without using cars. That, he said, would help reduce vehicular traffic.

Tavani also addressed access points along Route 926 under discussion. One idea has the entrance and exit between Route 202 and Bridlewood Boulevard, the entrance for the Brandywine at Thornbury development in Thornbury Township. The other idea has the Crebilly access line up with Bridlewood.

According to Tavani, having them line up could create a situation where there would be excessive traffic using residential streets in Thornbury while having them offset would not create extra queuing along eastbound 926.

There will be at least one more hearing session, scheduled for 6 p.m., Oct. 24 at Stetson Middle School. Two witnesses, one for Thornbury and one for Neighbors of Crebilly, are expected to testify that night. After the testimony is complete, a public comment period will follow. It's uncertain at this point whether that public comment period would wrap up in October or if it would continue to November.

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About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.

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